The New York Times’ Quentin Hardy reports HP’s Bill Hilf as saying that:
“We thought people would rent or buy computing from us. It turns out that it makes no sense for us to go head-to-head [with Amazon].”
Well, yes. But, and it’s a huge but… this doesn’t mean HP is abandoning (or should abandon) the cloud.
There are some clear leaders in the public cloud world right now. Amazon, of course. And, increasingly, Google and Microsoft. These are the clouds a startup will be born on, and the clouds on which that startup will grow to crazy valuations. These are the clouds a lone developer will spin up some virtual machines on, to explore something new, and to test the validity of an idea. These are the clouds an individual will turn to, for a few dollars a month. These are also, increasingly, the clouds that big business is trusting to run the workloads that matter.
And, despite some rather odd positioning from HP over the years, it’s only this last one that should concern them right now. It’s also, actually, an area in which they can still deliver value. But only if they give up on the idea that they are a comprehensive – serious, believable – competitor to the might of AWS, GCE and Azure. They’re not. They might have had a shot at it, once, but that would have required more vision and staying power than the company has ever demonstrated in its cloud misadventures.
Hilf is right. It makes no sense to go head-to-head. But it does make sense to play to strengths, to extend existing customer relationships, and to quietly deliver value.
There are plenty of other clouds once you get past the big three. There’s IBM, which is demonstrating some interesting potential around continued investment in SoftLayer and global data centres. There’s VMware, with a hybrid proposition that could be truly compelling to existing customers of VMware’s on-premise virtualisation if it could only deliver a more engaging hybrid story (it can, with focus) and a commercially sensible hybrid billing/ licensing model (it can, with clear direction from the top). There’s Rackspace, which has already done what some of these others need to, accepting that the race to the top is over and focusing instead on delivering solid service and value to an (apparently) happy and (demonstrably) growing customer base.
And the list goes on. Smaller players. Still multi-million/billion dollar operations in their own right, and still growing. But recognising that there are segments of the market in which it makes sense for them to operate.
HP has a lot of customers. Make it easy, HP, for them to go hybrid. Make it easy for them to buy some servers from you (they want to, and do) and then rent some additional capacity in an HP data centre. Make it easy for them to move workloads from one place to another, without stupid differences in billing, licensing, or the version of some software component erecting barriers annoying enough to send them elsewhere. Make HP’s cloud an easy decision for an HP customer, rather than something that has to be procured through a separate and open tender process in which any number of competitors will so easily eat your lunch.
Stop making it hard for your loyal customers to give you money. Build on what you have. Then grow.